President Obama’s last-minute push to whip votes for his trade bill backfired Friday as the House of Representatives killed a related measure providing aid to workers displaced by trade. The legislation was critical to the president’s pursuit of greater authority to negotiate trade agreements.
The 126-to-302 vote marked a failure for Obama after forging an unusual alliance with House Republicans. Skeptical Democrats argued the bill authorizing Trade Adjustment Assistance was funded through cuts to Medicare and would accelerate job losses.
“Our people would rather have a job than trade assistance,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said before the vote. “Whatever the deal is with other countries, we want a better deal for America’s workers.”
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said House Democrats have taken the trade bill “hostage” in an attempt to “undermine America’s trade agenda.”
“The Democrats are very good at talking about how much they care about the fight for working men and women who have been displaced and they didn’t send that message today, they did quite the opposite,” Dent said in an interview with The Daily Signal.
Trade Adjustment Assistance was used as an attempt to entice Democrats to support a second bill central to the trade deal. TAA, as it’s known, would have provided job training and relocation allowances for those who lose their jobs because of increased international trade.
Democrats didn’t go for the ploy and instead struck a blow to a program they typically support, bucking Obama’s 40-minute plea for passage just hours before the vote.
Now President Obama wants to talk?
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) June 12, 2015
— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) June 12, 2015
— Louise Slaughter (@louiseslaughter) June 12, 2015
— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) June 12, 2015
Conservatives denounced Trade Adjustment Assistance as a welfare program. Heritage Foundation experts David Muhlhausen and James Sherk called TAA ineffective and wasteful.
“Overall, little empirical evidence supports the notion that TAA spending helps displaced workers. In fact, TAA participants are more likely to have lower earnings after participating in the program,” they wrote in a Heritage report.
The opposition left the president and GOP House leadership reliant on Democratic support in order to press forward with the meat of the deal: Trade Promotion Authority.
That bill would have allowed the president and his successors to negotiate international trade deals without the threat of Congress amending or filibustering those deals. Known as fast-track trade authority, Congress is solely given an up-or-down vote on the trade deals.
— Speaker John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) June 11, 2015
— Jeb Hensarling (@RepHensarling) June 12, 2015
— Paul Ryan (@RepPaulRyan) May 17, 2015
Though Republicans moved forward with a vote, which passed 219 to 211, the failure of Trade Adjustment Assistance left the president without the win he was hoping for Friday. The two bills are contingent on each other to mirror the Senate’s version.
“Democrats made clear they did not value TAA and Republican leaders should not attempt to save the egregiously ineffective welfare plan,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action. Holler’s remarks align with many conservative lawmakers who rejected Trade Adjustment Assistance as a necessary piece of fast-track trade authority.
Despite today’s outcome, the trade deal is not dead yet. The House may meet in conference with the Senate to strike TAA from the conjoined bill or it can bring TAA back to the floor for another vote. If the second path is taken, a vote would likely occur Tuesday.
Obama has argued Trade Promotion Authority is necessary for the passage of an ambitious 12-nation trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will link 40 percent of the global economy. Trade Promotion Authority, according to the president, ensures nations participating in the alliance that Congress will not amend deals upon approval.
The passage of Trade Promotion Authority does not guarantee the partnership, but brings the president a step closer to securing a deal.
“The House Democrats are going to have to reconsider their opposition to TAA, and maybe some Republicans, too,” Dent said. “Opening markets is an imperative for greater economic growth and it would be a terrible thing to lose the enormous trade opportunity with both Europe and the Pacific over TAA.”